Cumberland paving bid goes to J.H. Lynch after switch

Cumberland paving bid goes to J.H. Lynch after switch

CUMBERLAND – Town-based J.H. Lynch & Sons has the job for the next round of repaving local roadways after the Town Council last week switched away from low bidder D’Ambra Construction.

The difference in bids on this job was a mere $147 on more than $2.4 million of paving work. Council President Craig Dwyer had pulled an award to D’Ambra as the low bidder off the agenda for a previous council meeting, but insisted that move was made only because there weren’t enough details and backup materials to award the work at that point.

Council members heard from Town Solicitor Kelley Morris Salvatore at their meeting last Wednesday, Sept. 2, that there were some concerns about the award to D’Ambra and that she received “inquiries from a couple of people asking whether or not it was legally available to the council to award this bid” to Lynch as the second lowest bidder.

The council ultimately agreed with Morris Salvatore’s assessment that the bids would likely be considered equal given the tiny difference between them, and decided based on Lynch’s history and presence within the town, as well as the fact that so many town residents are employed there, to award the work to the hometown business.

Mayor Jeff Mutter told the council he hopes to get paving started as soon as possible. Asked for a copy of the paving list for 2020-2021, Public Works Director Bob Anderson told The Breeze he expects to have it finalized later this week.

Part of the discussion that has been going on behind the scenes related to the bid for Cumberland’s street pavement improvements plan centers on the past work within town from both companies.

Lynch did the town’s previous round of paving work and there was some general unhappiness from town officials with the condition of some roads done back in 2016.

D’Ambra did the paving work after round one of the Diamond Hill water main replacement work, with complaints about manhole covers needing to be cut out and raised after the job was completed. There were also some concerns about the raising of manholes along Mendon Road this year.

Asked about those issues this week, Mutter said he’s heard the concerns about both companies, but with any company that works on projects of this scale, “it never goes 100 percent” right. The question, he said, is how companies respond after they’re told that the work isn’t right, and everything expressed to him by Anderson was that both D’Ambra and Lynch have responded the right way. He said Anderson was clear that the number of problems related to work from both companies was within the margin of error and not so statistically high that the town wouldn’t have them do more work in the future.

Representatives from D’Ambra declined to comment this week on the switching of the award to Lynch.

Morris Salvatore told the council last week that she did significant research on the town’s options given the closeness of the bids, or $2,437,527 for D’Ambra and $2,437,675 for Lynch, saying a court would likely determine that the bids are equal. The town charter says that when bids are equal and one company is a town business, preference can be given to that business, she said.

Anderson put out a request for proposals for the lowest bidder, and two responsible and qualified bidders submitted proposals, she said. Past precedent is for courts to defer to the municipality on decisions such as these, and judges will not interfere with an award unless it’s shown that a town acted corruptly, in bad faith, unreasonably arbitrarily, or other egregious ways. If D’Ambra challenged the award, the town would likely be successful in defending it, said Morris Salvatore, citing substantial case law.

Councilor Peter Bradley asked whether the paving work will be independently tested, and Mutter responded that he wasn’t sure, but such work would fall under the DPW. Bradley asked Mutter if the DPW is capable of doing the work itself with all of the other work it has going on.

The mayor took issue with Bradley’s questions on the DPW, saying that if staff couldn’t handle such work, he’d “be looking to make some changes in my public works department.”

Mutter asked Bradley to get to his point, and Bradley responded that he’s concerned about spending $2.5 million in taxpayer money without an independent tester to test it. Mutter said he didn’t appreciate the insinuation that $2.5 million in work would ever be done without keeping taxpayers’ best interests in mind.

The mayor told The Breeze this week that the town will hire an outside firm to inspect the paving work.

Morris Salvatore noted last week that no matter who does the work, it will still need to be monitored and inspected.

Councilor Scott Schmitt, summarizing the situation at hand on Sept. 2, said the town had two essentially identical bids, statistically speaking, and two qualified companies to choose from. One, Lynch, is housed in Cumberland, has been a good corporate citizen, and has done past work for the town.

Councilor Mike Kinch emphasized his desire to keep business in town, particularly during COVID-19 when so many residents work for Lynch. It’s in the best interest of Cumberland to keep as many local people working as possible with the “home team,” he said.

Schmitt asked about what he saw as some arbitrary unit prices within the bids, citing as an example a line item for loam and seed. D’Ambra listed one penny each for 5,000 units, or $50, Lynch listed $1 each, or $5,000, and third-place bidder listed 10 cents per unit, or $500, all seemingly very arbitrary numbers, said Schmitt.

Councilor Lisa Beaulieu then asked Finance Director Ray Chauvin whether officials reconciled the whole package in their evaluation or looked at individual line items. Chauvin said he sees it as “bottom line situation,” with the final number what the companies are committing to. Certain expenses appear to be bidders saying they’ll just plug in an amount to get to the final number, he said.

Beaulieu asked about corrective actions taken after the last road repaving in 2016, and Mutter responded that there were some issues that needed to be addressed as there would be with any major project.

Beaulieu said she’d like to see the administration consider the wider impact of bid awards in the future, noting an initial recommendation to award the bid to D’Ambra. If the council is going to make a decision for a company that’s not the lowest bidder, she said it’s important to know the reasoning.

Mutter responded that whichever way the administration goes, it opens itself up to criticism. He acknowledged signing the recommendation for D’Ambra without the background information, but said he doesn’t necessarily think staffers should be the ones making decisions that “encompass other parts of the discussions,” said as charter provisions.

This is a matter of two companies that can do the job, with one located in Cumberland and having “a history of being very helpful to multiple initiatives in town,” Mutter said.

If the bids came back in front of him and he knew exactly what the story was, said Mutter, would he have intervened and changed it? “Quite possibly,” said Mutter, adding that he may not have been entirely on the ball with this bid “when it rolled by my desk.”

“I apologize, I guess, for putting you in the position that you’re in,” he said, adding that he wishes the bid came out $175 in Lynch’s direction.

Beaulieu thanked Morris Salvatore for her diligence in giving the council a level of comfort to make an informed decision.

Dwyer noted Lynch’s many contributions to Cumberland, including a number of projects at no cost to the town or nonprofits, as well as the company’s employment of dozens of town residents and the taxes it pays to the town.

If the difference in bids was $2,000, $3,000 or $5,000, he might have thought differently about it, he said.

Dwyer repeated that when he pulled the awarding of the bid to D’Ambra from a previous agenda, he wasn’t aware of bidder names on the list besides D’Ambra, only that the item was lacking pertinent information.

There were six total bidders on the repaving work, with Cardi Corp. coming in third after D’Ambra and Lynch.

Comments

After seeing the town pave streets in the past, only to see them ripped up for planned water line repairs or gas line repairs a year or two later, I'm hoping our DPW will coordinate with the utitlies beforehand. Natinoal Grid repaved Williams St. about a year ago after replacing a gas line only to have Pawtucket Water rip up the same street this Summer.

For the sake of tax and rate payers, let's talk with each other please. (DPW, N-Grid and PWSB)

please publish the list of streets ASAP.

anyone know if Cumberland Hill will be repaved?